Mystery at Ravenrock (5e) (Patreon Request)
The 5e-iteration of this adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.
All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!
While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.
Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.
The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. While we’re on the subject of items – considering that 5e has less standard treasure books than e.g. PFRPG, I very much applaud the inclusion of a variety of magic items here. As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for 5e, but that is me nitpicking.
Now, as far as system mastery is concerned, Edwin Nagy did a surprisingly good job – the PFRPG-version excelled via its mechanics and the very well-DESIGNED components of its challenge; the 5e-version does not shirk from this challenge, and presents a surprising amount of different critters (which make up the bulk of the additional pages of this version), and the statblocks I checked do check out! That’s usually one thing that multi-system adventures fail horribly at, so kudos for providing proper stats AND getting the formatting for 5e right! The book also uses proper rules-language and default stats for guards etc. where applicable. Moreover, the version manages to retain the sense of being very tightly-wound and controlled, being well-designed as a hard, but fair adventure. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Big kudos for the conversion here. On the nitpicky side, I did notice some very minor formal hiccups here: A Languages line that reads “[stuff]”, a “Wand, uncommon” that’s not in italics, etc. – but the rules language-relevant materials? Precise and pristine. My only complaint here would be that the module has no inherent mechanic or rationale to prevent or dissuade from long-rest-scumming.
All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.
Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.
Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.
In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.
That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious. In 5e, we have a wide array of supplemental creatures. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.
Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in well-chosen DCs and proper application of 5e-mechanics. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.
Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules language level, and evry good on a formal level, with only cosmetic nitpicks. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.
James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Edwin Nagy’s conversion to 5e manages to retain the strengths of the adventure, and is simply well-executed. The main complaint against the PFRPG-version, though, remains: I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades, particularly if you like old-school style gaming and are fed up with sloppy conversions to 5e. This does actually operate properly in 5e. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock thus in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this neat adventure here on FGG’s storefront!
You can get the first adventure in Ravenreach here!
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